The Cleansing

Joshua Simmons lies on a small, uncomfortable hospital bed, his head propped up by two fluffy pillows. A plastic tube juts out of a mouthpiece over the lower half of his face. At the other end it is connected up to a tall machine on a stand. A monitor sits on top, measuring Simmons’ vitals. A UV drip and stand are also attached to him. His eyes slowly open and stare groggily up at the ceiling above. The harsh glare of the overhead light is too much for him so he closes his eyes again. He repeats this process several times. With each repetition he is able to keep his eyes open for a little longer until eventually he is able to lie there with his eyes completely open. They are puffy and red, thin slits staring up sleepily. Simmons shifts his attention to his hands and experimentally he wiggles his fingers. The digits feel stiff and heavy. The tendons and muscles ache, feeling stretched and weak. The door opens and a thin, rather severe looking nurse enters. A doctor, also female follows behind, dressed in a long white coat. Simmons, disorientated and unable to cope with the presence of other human beings, quickly shuts his eyes. The nurse moves overs to the bed and glances over him with an uninterested eye.

‘Looks like he is still dead to the world.’

The doctor picks up a tablet hanging off the foot of the bed and begins tapping away on it silently. The severe nurse wrinkles her nose at Simmons.

‘He needs another bath. And a shave.’ She adds, inspecting Simmons’ messy tangle of facial hair. ‘Not that it will improve things much, he is an incredibly ugly man.’

Simmons has to use all his might and willpower to stop himself frowning at the severe nurses’ blunt turn of phrase. To his surprise, the female doctor joins in, agreeing with the nurses’ statement.

‘Give me Mr. Collins in room 3 over him anyday. I sometimes think it would be better to just pull the plug and be done with it. Put him out of his misery.’

The nurse laughs. Simmons has no idea what is going on. Are they just nasty people or is this behaviour perfectly acceptable? He grows certain that if he opens his eyes right now, both women would hastily change their tone.

The female doctor produces a torch and is just about to pull back his eyelids, when Simmons suddenly opens his eyes. She jumps back in surprise, much to Simmons’s delight.

‘For heaven’s sake, you nearly gave me heart attack you daft bugger.’

‘What?’ Simmons croaks, his vocal chords struggling to be heard.

The nurse carefully disconnects the tube and mouthpiece. Simmons takes a deep lungful of air, feeling as if he has just swum up from the bottom of a lake and broken the surface. His throat feels like a cement mixer and his mouth is dried and cracked.

‘You better move over. I will need a lie down after that.’ She continues.

Simmons’s head hurts, as he frowns at the two nonchalant women. This wasn’t the reaction he had expected. He had presumed that when he opened his eyes he would be met with guilty faces and perhaps a meek muttering of an apology. But neither of the women look bothered by their behaviour. Instead they wear expressions of irritation, as if Simmons’s return to the world has annoyed them.

‘How are you feeling?’ The severe nurse asks, peering over the doctor’s shoulder at the tablet.

‘Okay.’ Simmons replies.

‘Well that’s doesn’t add up. You should be feeling like absolute rubbish.’ The doctor states.

‘Excuse me?’ Simmons frowns.

‘Mr Simmons, you have been in a coma for thirty years. At the very least you should be feeling groggy and a little disconnected with everything.’

Simmons gapes at the doctor and looks around the room. They must be pulling his leg.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Ah of course, the amnesia. Yes its common with most coma patients.’

‘But how?’

‘Car crash.’

She scrolls down the tablet with a finger.

‘According to your previous doctor, you were involved in a car collision with a young family.’

‘Are they alright?’

The severe nurse shakes her head and says bluntly. ‘They died upon impact as a result of your reckless driving.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Simmons manages, slightly taken aback.

‘I quite agree. It was entirely your fault. I hope you’ve learnt your lesson Mr. Simmons.’ The doctor chips in.

Simmons stares at the two women, his mouth open, unable to process this sudden and startling information.

‘You don’t have a very good bedside manner.’

‘You’re right we don’t.’ The nurse and the doctor say together.

Simmons can’t figure out what is wrong with the two women. It is almost like they constantly speak their minds with no regard for anyone’s feelings. Simmons breaks into a coughing fit and the severe nurse helps him up to a seated position and assists him in gulping down half a cup of water. This also takes Simmons by surprise. On the one hand the two women are blunt, rude and prickly but on the other hand here they are taking care of him and by the looks of it have been for the last thirty years. A beeping noise goes off and the doctor pulls out a small see through glass square. It is pulsing red. Simmons stares at it curiously, wondering what it does.

‘I have another matter I must attend to. I will check back in on my way past. Julie here will look after you in the meantime.’

The doctor exits, leaving Julie and Simmons alone.

‘Can I get you a cup of tea or anything?’ She inquires.

The question seems so blase after the previous conversation where she accused him of killing a family. Its not even forced. Julie appears perfectly content, as if the matter has gone from her mind.

‘That would be great.’

Julie leaves and Simmons is left alone once more. He waits a couple of seconds before attempting to sit up. His body is limp and weak and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to readjust into a seated position. His face turns red with the effort and his temples burn fiercely. His attempt to climb off the bed fails miserably and his legs buckle underneath him and he crashes to the floor. His elbow stings hotly where he banged it. Somehow he manages to crawl across to a chair up against the far wall and pull himself shakily up. He stands, holding onto the chair for support, his skinny legs wobbling like jelly. A set of closed blinds face him. A panel is set in the wall beside it. Simmons brushes it with his hand and the blinds separate. A ray of golden light hits him in the face. Blinded, he stumbles back, shielding his eyes.

‘What do you think you are doing?’

Simmons feels a hand on his arm and looks round to see Julie, looking particularly severe.

‘Back to bed you.’

Simmons forces his gaze back to window and his mouth fall opens. A dense forest of trees and fauna stretch out before his eyes. Dotted here and there are a series of wooden cabins, some on the ground, some built up and around the tall trees. The sky above is clear and bright. The nurse smiles at his shocked expression.

‘Quite something isn’t it?’

Simmons nods silently, at a loss for words.

‘Come on you, let’s get you back into bed before you fall down.’

Simmons complies and allows Julie to assist him back to the bed.

‘How did this happen?’ Simmons asks, once he is settled back in bed.

‘What, that?’ Julie replies, gesturing at the window.

Simmons nods and takes a sip of tea. It tastes like cardboard and he grimaces. He notices Julie looking and forces himself to let out a sigh of relief, pretending to enjoy it.

‘It’s been like that for the last twenty years.’

Simmons chokes on his tea.

‘Ten years after I went into coma? What the hell happened to instigate such a change?’

Julie shrugs.

‘A lot of dirty laundry was shared and then after a while it was cleaned.’

Simmons forces down another gulp of tea.

‘Don’t drink the tea. I know it tastes like crap.’

Simmons swallows.

‘Why didn’t you say anything?’

‘Wanted to test a theory. You know you’re not like other people.’

If Simmons is the odd one then what must everybody else be like. Head starting to hurt again, he changes the subject quickly.

‘But what happened to all the buildings and skyscrapers?’

‘Gone. Well most of them anyway. There are still a few left but most of them were demolished after The Cleansing.’

‘The Cleansing?’

‘Oh of course you wouldn’t know, how silly of me. A law was passed, forcing everyone to be honest.’

Simmons breaks into a croaky fit of laughter. Julie’s face remains emotionless and Simmons’ smile fades.

‘You’re serious.’

Julie nods emphatically.

‘Hence this.’ She gestures once again at the window. ‘Think all of those corporations built on greed and blood money. Not a problem anymore.’

Simmons scratches his head, struggling to cope with this bemusing revelation.

‘But surely there must be a lot of problems?’

Julie shrugs.

‘Well…yeah naturally. But at least if someone does something wrong they have to admit it.’

‘But what about people’s feelings? If everyone is honest, don’t people get offended?’

Julie’s faces darkens.

‘It is true that at first it took a while for people to come round to the idea. Gosh I remember one week where we had an influx of suicides. You know…the sensitive souls.’

‘That’s awful.’ Simmons exclaims, looking deeply mortified.

‘But its not like that anymore. Everyone can take it. Their skins have thickened.’

Simmons falls silent, frowning hard. It all seems so absurd. This hospital, the world outside, the words issuing from Julie’s mouth. Julie gives Simmons a sympathetic look.

‘Why don’t you lie back down for a while? It’s been quite an intense morning for you.’

Simmons is keen to know more but his head burns with a deep migraine and fatigue keeps making his eyes droop. He nods silently and offers no resistance as Julie assist him in lying down. Once he is settled and is beginning to drift off, Julie quietly closes the blinds, turns off the light and exits the room. As Simmons slowly fades out of consciousness The Cleansing is the last thought occupying his throbbing head.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Blink

Sarah had always wanted to be a super heroine. The obsession had begun from an early age, ever since she had first laid eyes upon the original Wonder Woman TV show. Her parents were both avid comic book fans and felt it was hugely important to educate their daughter by exposing her to as much different superhero related content as possible. Sarah wasn’t entirely keen at first. She tried classics such as Batman, Superman, The Hulk but found the lack of super women a bit disheartening. Lois Lane wasn’t a complete damsel in distress but Sarah found there wasn’t much else to her character. It was only when she got a hold of X-Men that she started to gain interest. Characters such as Storm, Mystique and Jean Grey immediately grabbed her attention and she spent a good few hours in the garden one afternoon, trying to change the weather. At one point she willed it with all her might to rain and five minutes later it started to drizzle. Sarah was so ecstatic but when she tried to make it stop, she was in no such luck and realized that it was just a fluke. Disheartened, she spent the next few days shut up in her room, sulking. Sarah’s mum had remedied the situation by showing her Wonder Woman and the determination to become a super heroine had returned once more. The strong, self independence of Wonder Woman amazed Sarah and she made an oath that day that she would never let any man tell her what to do.

As Sarah grew older however, the dream of becoming a super heroine began to slowly fade away and by the time she got to college, the urge to become the next Wonder Woman had nearly vanished entirely. As a child she had been able to devout pretty much all of her time to such tasks as discovering and honing her abilities, drawing and designing potential costumes and practising her fighting. After her first week at college she soon learnt that most of her time would be spent revising, working and partying. Her parents had given her the comic book collecting bug but unfortunately they didn’t come cheap and Sarah had to work part time in a book store in order to fund her addiction. Ironically due to her college workload and job hours she hardly got any time to actually read them. A rare free evening was seized upon hungrily and she took great delight in retreating inside her bedroom and gorging herself on issues of Catwoman and She-Hulk. Unfortunately this left no time for socializing and she soon began to suffer from loneliness. The only semblance of a friend she had was Nicole, who was a bit of a wild card. Nicole liked to get drunk, party and chase after boys. Sarah was the exact opposite and this was probably the reason they were friends. Sarah knew the only way to get to know Nicole better would be to force herself along to a few of the parties. As the weeks went by the parties increased and the collection of comics on Sarah’s shelf became dustier and more unused.

Her mother and father tried their best to keep her interest in comics and superheroes but by the time Sarah got to university, her parents had split and she found most of her time was spent away from home in her halls of residence. During term holidays she made as much effort to visit both her parents as possible but found travel and cost an issue. There was a brief period where she started to hang out with a girl who enjoyed comics as well and she found it refreshing to be able to return to her childhood past time. The two formed a strong friendship and even spent a considerable majority of their free time, illustrating and writing their own graphic novel. Sarah’s friend Ginny was a very talented artist and Sarah had a knack for inventing interesting stories. This carried on for a year and half until disaster struck when Ginny returned home after failing her first year for the second time. Sarah tried to keep the project going but soon realized that she couldn’t draw for shit. She tried making friends with several of the art students but came to the conclusion that they were either too pretentious for their own good or young men trying to impress her in order to get in her pants. Feeling at an all time low and sharing a flat with people she didn’t even like, Sarah began to feel disillusioned. And not just with the project. Her grades began to suffer and she became a hermit, locking herself away in her room. The few friends she had, tried to coax her out on a few occasions but Sarah refused each time, realizing that she had only become friends with them out of loneliness. Her only true friend had been Ginny, who had ditched her and run back to Birmingham. Sarah decided to skip a week and go and see her dad. She felt slightly guilty missing lectures but was so distracted in her lessons that she didn’t think it would make much difference any way.

Her plan was to spend a few days at her dad’s and the remaining days at her mum’s. She was looking forward to spending some time away from the university side of her life and being able to enjoy some family time. Unfortunately neither her dad or her mum would let her. All her dad was interested in was showing her the latest superhero film or buying her a new comic. He spent the rest of the time asking what comics and games Sarah’s mum had bought her. When Sarah got to her mum’s it wasn’t much better and after two days, was also drilled about what her father had given her. Sarah spent the coach journey back to uni in a foul mood, feeling that her holiday away had been more stressful then her shit at university. How dare her parents attempt to outdo one other and compete for her love? It made her sick. Her interest for comics and superheroes waned and soon after this, when she finally graduated from university, her interest in this area was all but gone. Although she still enjoyed the occasional comic before bedtime, it had slowly began to dawn on her that she had spent the whole of her childhood and teenage years engrossing herself in the comic book culture to please her parents. This resulted in her feeling like an empty vessel, without an identity or a purpose.

By the time she was in her early thirties Sarah had forgotten all about comic books and had spent the last six years focusing on her career. Not that she was exactly any happier. She worked as a location manager, a job which involved scouting out locations and places for production companies. It sounded glamorous but the reality was long hours, unpredictable weather and dealing with obnoxious members of the public. The money paid well but the stress was unbearable and her dedication to her job resulted in her social life suffering. She had been single now for the last three years and even the occasional date she had managed to go on had ended disastrously.

In an effort to change her lifestyle Sarah made some drastic decisions. She quit her job and returned to her passion of writing that she discovered at university. But this was not enough. The lack of life in the house had been gradually getting to her, growing in intensity over the years. Her Japanese Peace Lily was on the verge of dying and just sat in the corner, looking wilted and dead. To remedy the situation Sarah had come up with the ingenious plan of getting a cat. So for the first time in years Sarah had slept in late, not rising out of bed till gone twelve. She had wandered around the house aimlessly, unsure what to do with herself. The sensation was odd. She felt an immense sense of freedom but at the same time her brain couldn’t really comprehend the new found liberation. The compulsion to check her Blackberry for messages was too much and eventually she had to turn it off and force herself to relax. Instead of grabbing a piece of half burnt toast on her way out the door, Sarah made herself a proper English breakfast and sat on the balcony in the mid morning sun. The fresh air and the plentiful food helped her relax and soon she began to unwind in the warm heat of the sun, like a lazy cat. It was highly satisfying to have a decent cup of tea. Sarah had become all too accustomed to the mud, brown substitute for tea in the flimsy polystyrene cups issued to her on the production sets. For the first time in a long while Sarah was able to sit down on the sofa with her cup of tea and leaf through a newspaper. After five minutes of reading however she got fed up with the consistently bleak articles and threw it down on the table with a sigh. Heaving herself out of the much too comfortable settee she moved into the bedroom and dived into the back of one of the wardrobes. A series of tuts and groans followed as she flung clothes and bags into the bedroom behind her. Eventually she cleared enough space to reveal a large box sitting at the bottom of the wardrobe. She heaved it out and carried it to the living room coffee table. The box was extremely heavy and she had to lie down for a short while in order to recover her strength. When she felt recuperated enough she sat up, opened the box and peered gingerly inside. It was full of comics, ranging from thin paperback issues to large volume bound graphic novels. Sarah ran her finger over their spines, a sense of deep nostalgia rising within her. Closing her eyes, she picked one at random and was delighted to see that it was an issue of She-Hulk. Cradling her cup of tea in her hands, she curled up into a ball on the sofa and began reading.

After having spent a lovely morning relaxing and reading, Sarah decided to go down to the animal shelter in search for her cat. Her parents had never allowed her pets when she was younger as they were too paranoid that they would damage one of their precious comics or comic con costumes. But now Sarah had her own house and her own set of rules and allowing pets was one of them. She ended up spending a good couple of hours at the animal rescue centre and wanted nothing more then to take them all home with her. It was a difficult task choosing which cat, as they were all so cute but eventually she found the one for her. It was a young, lean looking thing with jet black fur and emerald eyes. The guy showing her around had warned her that the cat was a bit scatty or prone to mood swings as he put it. This was due to its previous owner being a nasty piece of work who use to mistreat her in a number of sadistic ways. The guy also explained that because the cat was in its teenage years she might be a bit of a handful. However Sarah was adamant and explained that now that she was working freelance she would be able to spend a good amount of time training the cat. There was something strange about the animal. As if they were an energy that drew Sarah over to her cage. The other cats were nice enough and she paid them a fair bit of attention as she passed by but when she reached the black cat’s cage it was as if someone had thrown a lasso around Sarah and reeled her in. All the other cats had mewed and jumped up against their cages as Sarah wandered past. All of them that is, apart from the black cat. In fact, at first glance she had thought the cage was completely empty. On closer inspection she had noticed a movement in the shadows at the back and had seen two large, green eyes staring back at her.

The journey home was a tad stressful and Sarah was keen to get back as soon as possible and let the cat out of her claustrophobic carrier. She tried to drown out the small creature’s whines and grumbles by brainstorming possible cat names. Selina was the obvious first choice. The mysterious nature and black fur complementing the character of Catwoman well but Sarah felt it was a bit too cliché. Black Widow was another possibility but she didn’t like the fact the name had more in common with arachnids. Plus it was a bit of a mouthful. Diana, Rogue and Storm were also possibilities as she definitely had the personality to fit them. As Sarah pulled into her driveway she faced the problem of having too many names as opposed to too few.

The first few weeks were a challenge but not in the way that Sarah had predicted. She was under the impression that the cat (due to its poor first owner) would run amok around her house, scratching at things and generally being a destructive nuisance. But this wasn’t the case. Instead she hardly saw the cat and would spend ages searching every nook and cranny for the aloof beast. She hadn’t got to the stage of letting her out yet for fear that the beast would disappear entirely. Every time she was convinced the cat had somehow escaped and was about to leave the house with a handful of missing posters the cat would suddenly appear out of nowhere, demanding to be fed. This is where Sarah finally got inspiration for the cat’s name: Blink. One of the less well known characters from the X-Men series who possesses the power to open portals, allowing her to teleport from one location to another. She thought it was a fitting name for the ever vanishing creature.

On one occasion she had managed to sneak up behind Blink, before she had time to disappear but unfortunately received several vicious scratches for her troubles. Wounded, Sarah had given up and left Blink to her business, nursing her stinging hand on the sofa. A few hours later Blink appeared on the armrest. Sarah had jumped at the cat’s sudden arrival and flinched when it sprung onto her lap. To her surprise Blink did not attack her but instead curled up in her lap and licked at Sarah’s scratches. She was over the moon at Blink’s sudden change in behaviour and seized the opportunity to stroke and caress the cat’s smooth fur. The two had fallen asleep and a few hours later Sarah woke with a sore neck. Blink had vanished and Sarah was astounded to see that the scars on her hand were nearly healed. Sarah thought back to when Blink had licked her and wondered if it had had anything to do with it. Surely Blink couldn’t possess some sort of magical healing abilities?

A couple of days went by and Sarah was still struggling to come up with any ideas for her graphic novel. Sitting behind her typewriter at the kitchen table, she was almost tempted to jump on Facebook and look up her old friend Ginny. But try as she might, Sarah couldn’t work up the courage to do so. As she sat there staring at the blank page in front of her, a black blur zoomed past in the corner of her eye and she looked up surprised. The room around her was empty and untouched. She lowered her eyes to the page once. There was another black blur and an open letter on the coffee table flew up into the air suddenly. Sarah got up and retrieved the fallen letter, glancing around her with a puzzled expression.

On an evening out with some of her media friends, Sarah had drunk a little too much and had let slip about her cat’s strange behaviour. Her friends had laughed at the fact that she thought her cat had some sort of mystical powers and explained that the cat was obviously just sneaky and able to hide easily. No one could explain the matter of the healing scars and Sarah suspected that none of them believed her, assuming she had made it up.

As the weeks went by Sarah struggled on with her story and even though she had begun to make progress, she felt it was slow going. Money was becoming a serious issue and Sarah had underestimated the cost of keeping a cat. Regrettably she made a few calls and managed to get a few days work location scouting for a TV advert. On the last night of the shoot she had returned home in the early hours of the morning, drained and in dire need of a generous glass of wine. As usual Blink was nowhere to be seen and so she went to the kitchen cupboard to fetch the cat’s food. To her astonishment she discovered Blink hidden inside the cupboard, gorging on the cat treats. Sarah had flipped her lid and locked Blink in the bathroom as punishment. It was only when she sat down that she begun to wonder how on earth Blink had gotten in there in the first place. Sarah had picked that Cupboard as it was very high up. Even if the cat had managed to get up onto the counter, the jump up to the cupboard was near impossible and there was nothing for her to use as purchase.

Sarah finally got to a stage where she had no idea what to believe anymore and in a desperate attempt asked the cat if she had superpowers. Blink had given her a curious look and Sarah had laughed, feeling stupid at herself for even believing it.  To her astonishment the cat sat down on her hind legs, opened her mouth and spoke the words. ‘Yes, I do indeed have superpowers.’

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.